Luisa Massarani is our guest blogger today. She was one of our cyberscholars, visiting Hatfield and Cyberlab from June 29th through July 4th, to learn our tools and resources in order to collaborate with us from the Brazilian Institution she works for, the Museum of Life (Museu da Vida), FIOCRUZ Foundation. Luisa is also the director of RedPOP-Unesco, the Network for Popularizing Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe
Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe

Over the last decade, Brazil has been systematically investing in public engagement in science and technology (S&T), both in pratical activity and in research. As someone who works in the field, I don’t need to be persuaded how much it is important to invest in it. In fact, other countries around the globe have been much more aware of the importance of supporting public engagement in S&T.

However, less effort has been put into understading the meaning different publics make of the public engagement in S&T actitivies – a challenge faced not only in Brazil but also around the globe. In my view, understanding the audiences is, in fact, the main question mark we face in science communication.

This was the main motivation that made our research group at the Museum of Life – a hands on science center in Rio de Janeiro, linked to the research institution Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – focus our attention to audience studies. Latin America has good scientific production in audience studies – mainly in soap operas. Very little, however, has been produced in science communication.

Luisa, Shawn and Jenny
Luisa, Shawn and Jenny

In 2009, we succeed in having a grant for designing a study on audiences and science coverage in TV news as result of a collaboration among 10 countries in “Ibero America” (Latin America plus Portugal and Spain). Since then, we began applying the methodologies we used for that study in the context of a science exhibition. In particular, we were very excited to understand further science exhibitions and 5-8 years old kids – which is a wonderful age for engagement in science due to their natural curiosity about the world around them. Furthermore, there is a substantial gap of literature focusing on this issue.

We feel that further methodologies are necessary for understanding in fact the meaning the kids make of the exhibitions.Thus, since the very begining, the connection with Cyberlab has been very exciting, due to the opportunity for opening new intellectual doors for us. Visiting Cyberlab in person during the week of June 30th was not only very useful and important from the point of view of developing new and more robust methodologies but extremely inspiring for new research and collaboration ideas.

I go back home prepared to start phase 1 of collecting data of the exhibition entitled Forest of Senses, which aims to foster curiosity of kids toward the Brazilian biodiversity. We will implement the methodology we designed together with the Cyberlab team, including installing the equipment that will allow us to transmit to Newport in real time what we will be observing in Brazil. We hope to, very soon, have results to share with all of you!

“Rapid prototyping” or “additive manufacturing” are both terms associated with the process of 3D printing (using digital models to fabricate tree-dimensional objects, printed one layer at a time). This piece of technology proved to be the solution for one of the most difficult cyberlab’s challenges: finding perfect mounts and housing for cameras installed on the exhibit floor that can be practical, durable, flexible and aesthetically pleasing.

We struggled with somewhat problematic alternatives for quite sometime, being saved by 3D technology as an effective and cheaper alternative than contracting with big exhibit development companies to create prototypes and models to customize mounts and housings for cameras to be placed throughout the visitor center. After a few attempts to find 3D printing contractors in Oregon that could do the job at a reasonable price and fast pace (believe me! that was quite an interesting task), we found Donald Heer at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU. Donald has been superb in working with us to make “our dreams” come true in time for a very busy summer, packed with ongoing research projects and scheduled cyberscholars who will be collecting data through the camera system.

Below are photos of the camera mount and housing prototype for the octopus tank. While the final product will be painted and look polished, the photos show how the 3D model works. It is really quite amazing to be able to have a customized product that fills all needs for the assigned exhibit.

3D Mount OctoTank3    3D Mount OctoTank4

3D Mount OctoTank5 3D Mount OctoTank10

Cyberlab was created under the premises of effective technology use to improve research on learning. It could not be any different that most of the solutions for our challenges are found within cutting edge technologies as well, and that we learn along the way. Sometimes it feels surreal we can do all of this, and that within the course of a very short time we can transform ideas into real products that work.

In her last blog post, Jen Wyld encouraged us to find our voices. If I have learned something working at Cyberlab is to find my voice, trust and try new ideas. Knowing the great job you all do within the Free-Choice Learning Program, I encourage you to trust your ideas even if they seem surreal, give them a voice and roll with them, because they are most likely doomed to succeed, especially when you find the right team players.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D printing or even try to print some projects of your own, enter the library 3D printer website and have fun testing your ideas!  http://guides.library.oregonstate.edu/3dprinting

Spring Quarter is now upon us and with that there is plenty of “spring cleaning” to get done in the Cyberlab prior to the surge of visitors to Newport over the summer months.  For a free-choice learning geek like me, this period of data collection will be exciting as I work on my research for my graduate program.

The monitoring and maintenance of the audio and video recording devices continues!  Working with this technology is a great opportunity to troubleshoot and consider effective placement around exhibits.  I am getting more practice with camera installation and ensuring that data is being recorded and archived on our servers.  We are also thinking about how we can rapidly deploy cameras for guest researchers based on their project needs.  If other museums, aquariums, or science centers consider a similar method to collect audio and video data, I know we can offer insight as we continue to try things and re-adjust.  At this point I don’t take these collection methods for granted!  Reading through published visitor research projects, there was consideration for how to minimize the effect of an observer or a large camera recording nearby and how this influenced behavior.  Now cameras are smaller and can be mounted in ways that they blend in with the surroundings.  This helps us see more natural behaviors as people explore the exhibits.  This is important to me because I will be using the audio and video equipment to look for patterns of behavior around the multi-touch interactive tabletop exhibit.

Based on comments from our volunteers, the touchtable has received a lot of attention from visitors.  At this time we have a couple different programs installed on the table.  One program from Open Exhibits has content about the electromagnetic spectrum where users can drag an image of an object through the different sections of the spectrum, including infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and x-ray, while providing information about each category.  Another program is called Valcamonica, which has puzzles and content about prehistoric petroglyphs found in Northern Italy.  I am curious as to the conversations people are having around the table and whether they are verbalizing the content they see or how to use the technology.  If there are different ages within the group, is someone taking the role as the “expert” on how to use it?  Are they modeling and showing others how to navigate through the software?  Are visitors also spending time at other exhibits near the table?  There are live animal exhibits within 15 feet of the table and are they getting attention?  I am thinking about all of these questions as I design my research project that will be conducted this summer.  Which means…time to get back to work!

Members of the Cyberlab were busy this week.  We set up the multi touch table and touch wall in the Visitors Center and hosted Kate Haley Goldman as a guest researcher.  In preparation for her visit, there were modifications to camera and table placement, tinkering with microphones, and testing the data collection pieces by looking at the video playback.  It was a great opportunity to evaluate our lab setup for other incoming researchers and their data collection needs, and to try things live with the technology of Ideum!

Kate traveled from Washington D.C. to collect data on the interactive content by Open Exhibits displayed on our table.  As the Principal of Audience Viewpoints, Kate conducts research on audiences and learning in museums and informal learning centers.  She is investigating the use of multi touch technology in these settings, and we are thankful for her insight as we implement this exhibit format at Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Watching the video playback of visitor interactions with Kate was fascinating.  We discussed flow patterns around the room based on table placement.  We looked at the amount of stay time at the table depending on program content.  As the day progressed, more questions came up.  How long were visitors staying at the other exhibits, which have live animals, versus the table placed nearby?  While they were moving about the room, would visitors return to the table multiple times?  What were the demographics of the users?  Were they bringing their social group with them?  What were the users talking about?  Was it the technology itself or the content on the table?  Was the technology intuitive to use?

I felt the thrill of the research process this weekend.  It was a wonderful opportunity to “observe the observer” and witness Kate in action.  I enjoyed seeing visitor use of the table and thinking about the interactions between humans and technology.  How effective is it to present science concepts in this format and are users learning something?  I will reflect on this experience as I design my research project around science learning and the use of multi touch technology in an informal learning environment such as Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Last week I returned a few purchased Cyberlab cameras back to the store.  Some were already taken off the exhibits and a couple others were just removed from the computer kiosks at the wave laboratory. Apparently they were not working well as images were coming through very blurry.

I wonder how much of the problem had to do with visitor interactions…WAIT…everything at a visitor center has to do with visitor interactions doesn’t it? The shape of the little camera stroked me as very inviting of the oily digits exploring the visitor center everyday. We all know visitors love to push buttons, so what happens when a camera placed at eye level at a computer kiosk looks like a button? … CORRECT, it gets pushed and pushed many times, and the finger oils get transferred to the lenses (that is a possibility). I can only imagine the puzzled looks of visitors waiting for something to happen, what would the “button” activate?

It didn’t activate anything but a little frustration on our prototyping side as we continue to seek optimal interfaces to obtain great quality video for our learning research goals while maintaining the aesthetically pleasing characteristic of the exhibits. Jenny East, Megan Kleibacker, Mark Farley and I walked around the visitor center to evaluate how many more cameras we need to buy and install keeping the old, new and oncoming exhibits in mind. How many more and what type of cameras to buy depended on the possible locations for hook ups, the surfaces available for mounting and the angles we need to capture images from.  Below is a VC camera map and a screen capture of the camera overview to give a better idea.

HMSC VC Camera Map

Screen Shot

While this is all a challenge to figure out, a bigger challenge is to find and/or create mounting mechanisms that are safe and look good. Camera encasing systems that minimize visitor touch and avoid any physical contact with the lenses. These will probably have to be custom built to fit every particular mounting location, at least that would be ideal.  But how do we make it functional? how do we make it blend within the exhibits and be aesthetically pleasing at the same time? It may seem easy to think about but not so easy to accomplish, at least not if you don’t have all the money in the world, and certainly not at the push of a button.

Nevertheless, with “patience in the process” as Jenny talked about in her blog last week, as well as practicing some “hard thinking” as Shawn discussed a few blogs ago, we will keep evolving through our camera set up, pushing all of the buttons technology allows us to push while working collaboratively to optimize the ways in which we can collect good data in the saga of understanding what really pushes the visitors’ curiosity buttons… towards ocean sciences.

Having more time to do research, of course! With the pressures and schedules of classes over, students everywhere are turning to a dedicated stretch of research work, either on their own theses and dissertations, or for paid research jobs, or internships. That means, with Laura and I graduating, there should be a new student taking over the Cyberlab duties soon. However, the other thing that summer means is the final push to nail down funding for the fall, and thus, our replacement is not yet actually identified.

In the meantime, though, Laura and I have managed to do a pretty thorough soup-t0-nuts inventory of the lab’s progress over the last couple years for the next researchers to hopefully pick up and run with:

Technology: Cameras are pretty much in and running smoothly. Laura and I have worked a lot of the glitches out, and I think we have the installation down  to a relatively smooth system of placing a camera, aligning it, and installing it physically, then setting it up on the servers and getting it set for everyone’s use. I’ve got a manual down that I think spells out the process start to finish. We’ve also got expanded network capability coming in the form of our own switch, which should help traffic.

Microphones, however, are a different story. We are still torn between installing mics in our lovely stone exhibitry around the touch tanks or just going with what the cameras pick up with built-in mics. The tradeoff is between damaging the rock enclosure or having clearer audio not garbled by the running water of the exhibit. We may be able to hang mics from the ceiling, but that testing will be left to those who follow. It’s less of a crucial point right now, however, as we don’t have any way to automate audio processing.

Software development for facial recognition is progressing as our Media Macros contractors are heading to training on the new system they are building into our overall video analysis package. Hopefully we’ll have that in testing this next school year.

Eye-tracking is really ironed out, too. We have a couple more issues to figure out around tracking on the Magic Planet in particular, but otherwise even the stand-alone tracking is ready to go, and I have trained a couple folks on how to run studies. Between that and the manuals I compiled, hopefully that’s work that can continue without much lag and certainly without as much learning time as it took me to work out a lot of kinks.

Exhibit-wise, the wave tanks are all installed and getting put through their paces with the influx of end-of-year school groups. Maybe even starting to leak a little bit as the wear-and-tear kicks in. We are re-conceptualizing the climate change exhibit and haven’t started planning the remodeling of the remote-sensing exhibit room and Magic Planet. Those two should be up for real progress this year, too.

Beyond that, pending IRB approval due any day for the main video system, we should be very close to collecting research data. We planned a list of things that we need to look at for each of the questions in the grant, and there are pieces that the new researcher can get started on right away to start groundtruthing the use of video observations to study exhibits as well as answering questions about the build-and-test nature of the tsunami wave tank. We have also outlined a brief plan for managing the data as I mentioned a couple posts ago.

That makes this my last post as research assistant for the lab. Stay tuned; you’re guaranteed to hear from the new team soon. You might even hear from me as I go forth and test using the cameras from the other side of the country!